Unidentified Flying Objects

The UFO age

The immediate impact of Arnold’s sighting is shown by the unfolding of events at Roswell, New Mexico, barely two weeks later. According to the official press release of 8 July 1947, “The many rumors regarding the flying disc became a reality yesterday when… [the] Air Force… was fortunate enough to gain possession of a disc…”. The matter was soon (apprently) settled: within hours, the Air Force issued a retraction and showed pictures of Major Jesse Marcel, who had recovered the alleged disc, holding what were clearly the remains of a balloon, said to be the material recovered from the crash site. And there, so far as the US Air Force was concerned, the matter rested. If it was mentioned by Ufologists at all for the next thirty years, it was as a cautionary tale about how mundane objects can be misidentified as alien technology and an illustration of how Kenneth Arnold’s sighting had caught the public imagination.

According to documents released in the 1990s, the original press release was put out in an attempt to divert attention from the fact that the wreckage was from a classified military test balloon, but deliberately misattributed to an ordinary weather balloon. Unfortunately for the USAF, it was one that completely misjudged public attitudes to the burgeoning ‘Flying Saucer’ phenomenon. Roswell might have remained a footnote in the history of Ufology had it not been for a series of publications that began to suggest a massive government cover-up had taken place (indeed, nobody, including the US government now denies that there was a cover-up: the important issue is to decide what was being covered up). According to the publications, beginning a whole generation after the event, alien bodies had been recovered from the wreckage, including one that was still alive at the time of recovery. Subsequent investigation has merely served to confirm the conspiracy theory for believers in the ET hypothesis, as no evidence for the events alleged to have occurred by Berlitz and Moore has ever been found. The supposed ‘alien autopsy’ footage, screened worldwide in 1995, and supposed to be secret government film from Roswell, has since been exposed as a poor hoax.

Roswell continues to facinate both the True Believers and the sceptics. There is no doubt that something crashed on Mac Brazel’s farm in early July 1947. The subsequent recovery of débris and its transport to Roswell Air Force Base is well documented and covered by contemporary newspaper reports (as well as radio broadcasts that were not, however, recorded). It is also likely, though not properly documented, that the débris was then removed to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, after which the trail goes cold. All subsequent information comes from personal recollections, garnered thirty years and more after the event. This much is not in doubt. Depending on one’s position as either True Believer or Sceptic, the remains were either of a crashed alien craft, perhaps with one or more bodies of its occupants, which the US Air Force is keeping somewhere, or it is the remains of a then classified Project Mogul balloon, perhaps carrying mannequins or experimental monkeys, but of definitely human (and specifically American) manufacture.

Last updated 10 March 2006